Last night, BBC3 aired a documentary posing the question: ‘Is Football Racist?’ featuring former Premier League defender and Chairman of the PFA, Clarke Carlisle. Carlisle admitted that he “felt ashamed of my industry” in the wake of events over the past year, but that he had “never experienced any form of racism” during his time playing in all four divisions in the English league.
It was perhaps an apt time for this documentary to air as racism in football is something which has been dominating the headlines as recently as last week, with John Terry being found not guilty of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. Another high profile case of recent times was that of Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, with the former being hit with an eight game ban from the Football Association.
For the most part, Carlisle’s documentary was engaging and there were some key questions highlighted one being: why are there so few black and Asian fans in football grounds? While another being the lack of Asian footballers playing in leagues across Britain. There have been a lot of changes in football since the 1970’s and 80’s when racism was at its most prevalent along with hooliganism. Carlisle himself has never suffered racism, but his father did, as he explained this was why he couldn’t and didn’t ever take his son to a football game when he was younger. This contrasted how far football has come, but it could have been highlighted more.
One aspect in particular that disappointed me, was that Carlisle travelled to Poland to take in a derby game there – it is not the first time that Poland has been used as an example, as the BBC’s Panorama also featured games from there in the build up to Euro 2012 which led former England defender Sol Campbell to proclaim: “Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk [going] … because you could end up coming back in a coffin.” It might have been better if Carlisle had travelled to a much higher profile league: e.g. La Liga or Seria A, rather than targeting a league that has already been subjected to scrutiny? There is a case to be made that if you’re looking for an example of racism, if you look hard enough you will find one.
Another question that was posed is the lack of black managers in the Premier and Football League – just 3 out of 92 are black and those are Chris Hughton, Chris Powell and Keith Curle. It might be a simplistic view to take, but as I articulated on Twitter during the programme, John Barnes, by all accounts has been a poor manager, similarly with Paul Ince, skin colour is not an issue here, in my eyes. Perhaps in 5 or 10 years time (25% of players in England are black), when some of the greatest black players of this generation have retired we will see the figure of 3 out of 92 rise?
Although it is not surprising, it was sad to see out of all the high profile footballers playing in the Premier League, footballers that support the RESPECT and Kick It Out campaigns, only Tottenham’s Jermaine Jenas spoke to Carlisle for the documentary. Racism is still very much a stigma for current players to talk about, particularly in front of a TV camera.
Finally, the title of the programme: ‘Is Football Racist?’ – wasn’t perhaps the best title. Football itself is not racist. Individuals and society might be racist, but football is not.